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Poster: light into ashes Date: Feb 17, 2011 3:09pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: What if......

Good points. I see it a bit differently...

I think the complaint was not really about predictable setlists, but the predictable *format*...the inevitable drums>space etc. We all know they had a wider variety of songs in the '90s than ever before, but they surprised people in limited ways. (Saying drums>space was often the best part of the show is like an admission of defeat, if the jams became that limited!)
The second complaint was that a lot of the songs introduced in the '90s are not well-liked by Dead fans....not something you could say about too many early-'70s Dead songs!

And the predictable setlists of '68-74 are not quite how you put it. Once the Dead settled on the first-set warmup/second-set drums>space arrangement, they stuck with it for 17 years! Whereas in the early years, though setlists from show to show would be identical, over a few tours they'd shake things up.
They did the Live Dead format heavily for, oh, a year. The Cryptical reprises got dropped after 2 years; St Stephen got pushed around & dropped & rearranged; Playing in the Band moved out of the first set after 3/4 years (and after giant jam-changes) and became much more unpredictable in what it could lead to; the WRS prelude lasted all of one year. 1972 was pretty rigid; but 1970 and late '73/'74 were probably the most unpredictable sets in their history, when you often didn't really know what was going to come next. These kinds of developments stopped happening after 1977...

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Feb 17, 2011 10:37pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: What if......

Overall I completely agree with your comments. I think the really central point is that from 68-74 the creative energy was focused and intense in every single way, performance and songwriting. As new songs were written, the format of the shows continuously evolved during these years, reflecting the nature of the new material. Once they settled on the post-retirement formula, they just dropped new songs "into the rotation". I didn't mean to imply that the night to night repetitions of the early years were a problem.

When I think about the relationship of the pre-retirement era to what came after, I compare it to the greater and lesser works of composers and painters. Mozart's operas are more important music than his piano sonatas, but I'm glad to have the variety, and the sonatas still have a lot of greatness. I know that the post-retirement era generates a lot of controversy that seems to me like a glass half-full vs. half-empty debate. Even though the skeleton of 80s/90s shows was consistent, there was still evolutionary change. The post-terrapin free jams of the 90s, for instance, are often wonderful and represent a reflowering of open improv with a steady rhythm and smooth melodic contour.

I guess my point is that the real question is the quality of the performance, and all the setlist variety in the world can't redeem boring, lifeless performance and an absence of full band jamming. The problem wasn't that Truckin' was always slotted into the first half of the second set - the problem was that they stopped doing huge creative jams coming out of it.